Hugo Rifkind

Let’s rein in Brexiteer triumphalism before we all go mad

8 April 2017

9:00 AM

8 April 2017

9:00 AM

According to archaeologists and all the papers last week, the 11th-century villagers of Wharram Percy, North Yorkshire, used to mutilate their dead, chopping off their heads and breaking their legs to minimise the danger of zombie resurrection. ‘Imagine being afraid,’ I chortled while reading this, ‘that the undead might put you in mortal danger!’ Whereupon I flicked forward a couple of pages and came across Michael Howard’s plan to defend Gibraltar by sending a gunboat.

Personally, I’m against the idea of war with Spain. Although I say that cautiously, because we Remoaners must not hold back the will of the people. Indeed, such is the way of things these days, the more I were to rail against war with Spain, in my whiny, quinoa-eating way, the more attractive the prospect would presumably become, what with upsetting the likes of me now being a decent political reason to do almost anything. ‘It’s worth it to see your liberal tears!’ I’d be told, as the Tornados rained fire on Seville, and that’s a trap I’m keen to avoid. So war it is. Jolly good. Don’t let me stand in anybody’s way.

Likewise the blue passports. Is that a trap, too? When, for example, the MP Andrew Rosindell last week described the current maroon one as a ‘source of national humiliation’, he was messing with me, right? I’m supposed to blunder in derisively, right? Thereby turning the blue passport into symbol of everything the wrong sort of person is against, which in turn elevates it into being something all decent, freedom-loving Brits are mad keen to have. Right? ‘Hahahaha!’ I’m supposed to scream, probably quite camply, and perhaps in the Groucho Club. ‘What kind of freak cares about the colour of their passport?’ And yet, while doing this, I would, of course, be becoming the sort of person who cares about the colour of their passport. By the logic of my own argument, I would thereafter perhaps even have to regard the new blue British passport as ‘a source of national humiliation’. And lo, the Rosindells of this world would have climbed from the pit of absurdity, and down there instead I would dwell. Gibbering about nonsense. Like they always used to.

Or a return to imperial weights and measures. That one isn’t quite a realistic prospect as yet, but you can feel it in the wind. Andrea Leadsom floated it a few months ago. Simon Heffer demanded it last weekend in the Sunday Telegraph, and it dropped online a few hours early, and at first I genuinely thought it was an April Fool. ‘These measurements,’ he wrote, of pounds, ounces, gallons and yards, ‘are second nature to most of us.’ Are they? I’m not sure. I turned 40 last week, and they’ve been teaching metric in schools since three years before I was born, which means, I suspect, that my own mishmash of measuring is actually more typical. I know humans in stones and feet, but stuff in grams and centimetres. Throw me a yard and I’ll fudge it into metres, and I would not know a furlong or a peck if I found one at the back of a drawer. Tell me I need to start shopping in pounds and ounces and it feels like an assault, a deliberate political choice to make my life harder, so as to prove I no longer rule the world. Isn’t that what the other lot used to say, though? Which is the point, of course. This is a tribal declaration of control; the urge, in the manner of Conan the Barbarian, to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women.

Were I a Brexiter, though, I’d like to think I would be wary. Generationally speaking, however you cut it, Brexit feels like an injustice. Forget middle-aged folk like me, and think of the young, the under-24s, who voted against by a factor of three to one. For them, the passport they hold in their hands, whatever colour it is, looks set to become a less useful document.

I’ve spoken in several schools since the vote, so I’m not just making this up. Overwhelmingly, if not universally, the general view is that this whole process is one of an older cohort blithely doing them over in a bid to turn the clock back. And personally, if that was a view I wanted to counter, then I wouldn’t start by forcing these poor bloody kids to figure out whatever the hell a yard is. We hear a lot about the need for an end to Remainer petulance, so as to foster national unity. Reining in Brexiter triumphalism might do wonders, too.

In the end, though, I’m reluctant to make a fuss, and not just in case it does more harm than good. It is, take it from me, disorientating enough suddenly to find yourself a cheerleader for the European Union when you have spent your entire life either ignoring it or openly disparaging it. How much stranger, though, suddenly to become the person who gives a flying monkey’s hoot about the colour of his passport, or the measurement of his cheese. Am I really to rally, politically, around the lost centimetre? The puce travel pass? Am I no better than the nutters, just on the other side?

This is the sort of stuff Jonathan Swift had in mind, with his Lilliputian battles over how to open an egg. Lord, save us all. They are the egg men. I am the egg man. Goo goo g’joob.

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